Understanding the what, how, where of EU cohesion policy with categorisation data 

1. What are we talking about? How is it useful?

Cohesion policy 2014-2020 comprises EUR 355 billion of EU budget delivered in 3 funds - ERDF, Cohesion Fund and ESF/YEI through 390 programmes in national, regional and Interreg programmes. These funds support investment in a wide range of thematic areas, in different forms and through different mechanisms.  In order to understand, monitor and communicate with stakeholders on such a complex policy it is essential that there strong information gathering tools in place. 
The main objective of the categorization system is
to establish a "nomenclature" for the categorisation of financial data, in order to ensure reliable and comparable monitoring data on the use of the Funds
The system is an information system and has proven its value in communicating about the policy as it provides the source of a multitude of answers:  
  • How much is invested in SMEs? Research? Energy? Tourism? Climate action? Education? And many other themes? 
  • What forms of finance and used? Grants? Equity? Loans?
  • What about the territorial spread of investments across cities? or rural areas?
It is an essential source of information in the planning of investment and the progress implementing of those plans over time, and provides input for studies, evaluations and performance audits
In this article we explore the nature of the system, distinguishing between data on the planned use and data on implementation.  We also highlight the different specific uses linked to climate tracking and biodiversity tracking and flag the datasets that are available thorough #ESIFopendata . 

2. Programme documents contain "ex-ante" information on planned use of EU resources

The 2014-2020 programme documents provide information on the planned use of EU resources (by priority axis) in 4 dimensions for ERDF / CF and 5 dimension for ESF / YEI.  In this chart you can see that the dimension overlap. 
  • Intervention field: what actions, sectors are being financed? (123 codes)
  • Form of finance: how is it being financed? Grants, loans, equity? (7 codes)
  • Territory: is it in an urban, rural, other area? (7 codes) 
  • Territorial Delivery mechanism: is a specific local, community led or integrated delivery mechanism planned? (7 codes)
  • ESF secondary theme: Is there a specific secondary theme targeted by ESF support?  (8 codes)
For 3 dimensions the data is comprehensive; for territorial delivery it is partial (technical assistance is not reported); for the ESF secondary theme the data is not comprehensive for  ESF/YEI. 

... allowing us to compare changes in planned amounts over time (reprogramming)

Over the 10 year period of the programmes (2014-2020 + 3 year closure period) the investment focus of the programmes may be modified when justified. Modifications frequently involve realloactions of the planned investments to adapt to changing demands, socio-economic needs or strategic priorities. Using the annualised "planned vs implemented" data set you can compare changes in planned amounts year on year.  This is highly detailed. 

Check the filter to see which investment field is displayed.  Change the filter to explore other investment fields, funds and by country.

3. Annual reporting of financial data brings implementation data covering all dimensions 

The annual reporting includes information on the 5 dimension in the programmes and on three additional dimensions:

  • Location Dimension: this involved NUTS3 or NUTS2 codes for the geographic location of the projects selected; 
  • Economic dimension:  this provides information on simplified NACE industrial and services sectors, particularly useful in understanding the sectoral nature of research, innovation or business support, when reported (24 codes);
  • Thematic objective dimension: only for the ERDF and Cohesion Fund (12 codes).
The chart below shows the aggregated values for all 8 dimension (selected values and spending by selected projects) with filters by year, fund and Member State. 

... allowing us to combining categorisation data on "planned" and "implemented values" 

A specific dataset contains data to allow comparison between the latest planned amounts and the data reported annually on the implementation of the investment finances. This dataset is in time series and, using the year filter, shows the progress over time in selection of project (projects decided following selection procedures) and the expenditure by those projects (spending = expenditure declared to the programme). The charts below shows the EU aggregate picture for the 4 intervention field codes dealing with high speed broadband for a specific year (2002) and over time. The filters allow users to see progress over time and to change the fund, intervention field codes, thematic objectives and countries.

4. What analysis is the categorisation system used for? 

The categorisation system has a wide variety of uses. Some examples of data stories built on the categorisation data are presented below.      

Climate tracking story 

An innovation in 2014-2020 was the use of the categorisation intervention field codes for the formal tracking of investments relevant for climate action. 

Biodiversity tracking story

In a similarly way, biodiversity relevant financing is tracked based on internal EC decisions on the relevant intervention fields. 

Tracking Air Quality investments 

Support to digitisation can be explored 

Health investment

There is a lot of thematic detail in the intervention fields, such as in relation health investments. The data allows the tracking of reprogramming overtime. 

Investment by territory type

The territorial dimension allows trading investments in dense and less dense urban areas and rural areas. 

Tracking the use of Financial Instruments 

Interactive sankey charts on intervention fields

These interactive sankey charts were made available on the ERDF, ESF and Cohesion Fund pages in March 2020.  

5. Cross analysing different dimension !! 

Different views of the categorisation data come from different data sources with somewhat different data structures.  The "raw" categorisation data reported on implementation at the end of January each year allows to "cross-anaylse" the data provide by dimensions. This is most easily understood by considering the analysis of pairs of dimensions as follows: 
  1.  What economic sectors (economic dimension) are benefiting from investments in RTDI (Intervention fields);
  2. What forms of support (forms of finance) are used to support SMEs?  (Intervention fields); 
  3. What actions (intervention fields) are financed under integrated territorial instruments (terrritiorial delivery mechanism).
This dataset provides a recent extract of the "raw" categorisation data.  The chart below shows a sample of the data that is reported.

6. Data resources and more reading: 

6.1 Period 2014-2020

6.2 Period 2007-2013

6.3 Period 2007-2006 and before

  • A more basic, single dimension "categorisation system" was in force for programmes with ERDF/ESF funding in the period 2000-2006.  That system fell into disuse after a simplification initiative in 2003-2004.  It is therefore considered that the initial data collected is not a reliable guide to the thematic investments that finally took place.
  • For 2000-2006 and periods before 2000 systematic thematic data is not available.  The data available was published in evaluation of the periods concerned. 
Date of text: Revised 07/21;  Revised 09/20; Revised 04/20: first published 2019. 
Authors:  John WALSH / Máté TAS